Friday, October 26, 2012

Streets of Baltimore

When KJ, LC and I headed to Baltimore for a wedding last weekend, I had a few objectives in mind:
  1. Enjoy quality time with KJ's core group of friends from college, whom I've been getting to know over the last few years, despite living 3000 miles away from most of them.
  2. Get a taste of the local flavor by trying at least a few Baltimore-brewed beers. Yeah, yeah, yeah...what else is new? I know.
  3. Wear my St. Louis Browns cap whenever appropriate (not to the wedding, obviously) and take mental notes of the reactions I receive.
  4. Walk around town with the Gram and Emmylou version of "Streets of Baltimore" in my head the entire weekend, occasionally switching it out for the Jayhawks' "Baltimore Sun."

I was mostly successful:
  1. Nice wedding and all around great weekend, but you're not really interested in that part.
  2. See below.
  3. Only one stranger talked to me about baseball, and it wasn't actually in reference to the hat, although it certainly was inspired by it. A guy on the elevator in my hotel asked what the current status of the NLCS was (Cardinals 3-2, at that point), obviously not understanding the significance of the orange STL logo on the brown hat. I'm not holding this against Baltimorans, though. Most likely, since that encounter occurred in a hotel, the gentleman in question was an out-of-towner. Additionally, since we were staying in the inner harbor area, it's fairly likely most of the folks I crossed paths with weren't natives either. Still, I was a little disappointed.
  4. That one was easy.

Now about that beer. I used to think New England was the top eastern region for craft brewing, but with the emergence of breweries like Delaware's Dogfish and Pennsylvania's Victory, I've since realized the mid-Atlantic is the east coast's best answer to the Pacific Northwest.

Baltimore's scene isn't good enough to be considered the region's capital, but I was still fairly impressed. One particular brewery I'd never heard of prior to the trip dominated my weekend's consumption, but I also found the time for an afternoon stop-off at a more familiar place.

Let's discuss the latter first. The wedding was Sunday, so on Saturday morning the girls had a pedicure appointment. Which, of course, meant a few hours of boy time with me and Little Chuck exploring the city's streets.

Not surprisingly, an hour-plus of strolling around town turned into a short nap for the little guy. In fact, I first noticed he was asleep as I came upon this landmark:

Canal Street Malt House
Canal Street Malt House

Now a condo complex, the Canal Street Malt House was originally built in 1866 to store malt for the city's growing brewing industry.

Just across the street was the Heavy Seas Ale House, the brewery I was previously familiar with, having tried a few of their beers prior. Their brew pub was also a little off the beaten path and not as crowded as some of the inner harbor joints, so it seemed like a reasonable place to take my 11-month old son.

I waited a half-hour, though, because I needed to keep moving so as not to risk interrupting the nap that had just begun. Once inside, a pint of their cask-conditioned Loose Cannon Hop3 Ale seemed appropriate. When traveling, it just makes sense to drink beer you can't get elsewhere, and while this brand is distributed to my neck of the woods, the cask obviously is not.

It was a solid IPA, but not the best of the weekend, and it had the result that a good first beer usually does. It made me want a second, an urge my parental responsibilities forced me to resist.

The brewer I was introduced to on this trip was Stillwater Artisanal Ales. Similar to Massachusetts' Pretty Things, Stillwater doesn't have any of their own brewing facilities. Instead, they rent out space from and/or collaborate with other breweries for each of their offerings.

Friday night, all of KJ's friends who were in town for the weekend, including the then-future bride and groom, met up for dinner at a great little beer bar called Of Love and Regret, which happens to be co-owned by the head of Stillwater.

Their beer selection, of course, includes at least ten of Stillwater's creations on draft. The first one that jumped off the menu at me was a Belgian IPA called Why Can't IBU, my new choice for the best beer name ever.

Both KJ and I had the same initial impression of this one. It's a really nice IPA. As insipid as that sounds, I think it's meaningful. The beer doesn't knock you over with typical IPA characteristics, but it draws you in with subtle but distinctive elements: a mildly piney and citrusy aroma, crisp and dry up front, with a nice (there's that word again) hop finish.

For my second beer of that first night, I enjoyed an Existent, Stillwater's answer to your inner crisis of character. A smooth and dry dark ale, it's also nicely hopped and well balanced. 

Sunday night was the big event, and here's where I admit I finally broke my new beers resolution. At the time, I rationalized that I wasn't, but there's really no denying it.

Before I explain, let me first say I already decided my home brew would be the allowable exception. I wasn't about to brew a 5-gallon batch of my own recipe and limit myself to one 12-oz. or 22 oz. serving. So, I guess the loophole was to say the resolution only applies to commercially-brewed beer. Fair enough, right?

Well, at Sunday night's reception, the beer options were a keg of Stillwater Cellar Door—awesome choice, by the way: a session beer appropriate for both summer and fall and one that should definitely appeal to the masses—in addition to Bud Light and Natural Light. So, basically there was only one choice. If one of the lesser alternatives was National Bohemian, I may have gone for it, but instead I decided a wedding celebration was a good enough excuse to bend my rules a bit. Actually, I tried to tell myself a keg was just one big beer I was sharing with a bunch of other people, but the same would apply to a keg at a bar, so that rationalization fell flat when I reconsidered it later.

I still plan to finish out the year by drinking only beers I haven't yet consumed in 2012 (current count: 149) and to make next year's goal to drink more distinct beers than this year. But, there's no mistaking I didn't make it through the entire year without drinking the same beer twice. Oh well.

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